Running an SEO competitive analysis can be a comforting experience.
Whether you’re looking to break into an industry or boost your organic rankings, there are no silver bullet strategies. No matter how many frameworks you learn or which how-to guides you follow, there will always be uncertainty in the SEO game.
But in the wide sea of search possibilities, SEO competitive analysis gives you some direction.
It can tell you what kind of content works best for your target audience. It can uncover opportunities to reach those coveted Page 1 rankings. And it can help you prioritize your long list of SEO/content tasks.
The first step? Identifying your competitors.
It sounds simple, but starting your SEO competitive analysis with the wrong targets could mislead the entire process.
Understanding the Focus of SEO Competitive Analysis
The line between competitor analysis and SEO competitive analysis is often blurred.
Especially for in-house marketing teams looking to boost rankings, it can be difficult to break out of the traditional competitor analysis mindset. If someone asked you to name 5 competitors to your business, you’d have no problem rattling off a list.
So much of business success relies on leadership’s ability to position your brand against competitors in your market. You need to know the ins and outs of their products, their pricing structures, the strengths and weaknesses of their operations, and why customers would choose you over them.
All of this information is invaluable to creating an effective marketing strategy.
But it’s not entirely relevant to SEO competitive analysis.
Your traditional business competitors aren’t necessarily the same as your search competitors. There’s sure to be overlap, but SEO competitive analysis has to widen the scope.
Business Competitors vs. Search Competitors
Step 1 of SEO competitive analysis is to identify your competitors. But even before that, you have to recognize the difference between business and search competitors.
Business competitors are companies selling products and services similar to yours. Search competition is much more about who is ranking for the keywords you want your brand associated with.
You’re not just competing with a handful of the other most popular companies in your market. And you’re not only competing with similar companies in your local area.
Search competitors will cover a wide range of people and brands adjacent to your business (no matter what industry you’re in). From individual thought leaders covering your most relevant topics to industry trade publications and brands under your industry umbrella with a different niche, you’ll have to compete with them all for Page 1 rankings.
Suppose you narrow the focus of your SEO competitive analysis to business competitors alone. In that case, you may miss out on significant opportunities to boost rankings and get in front of your target audience.
The amount of overlap between your business and search competitors will depend on the keywords you choose to target.
SEO Competitive Analysis for Awareness or Conversion?
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to analyze your search competitors. And there’s no reason why you can’t run multiple analyses to cover a variety of marketing goals.
Most SEO competitive analyses start with conversion-focused keywords. You’d start with a keyword that reflects the product or service your brand provides. If you’re in cybersecurity? Maybe it’s a “next-generation firewall.” If you’re a marketing agency? Maybe it’s a “digital marketing agency” with a possible modifier for location.
No matter what you’re selling, conversion-focused SEO competitive analysis is about getting to the heart of search intent at the tail end of a decision-making process. What terms are your prospects searching for when they are deciding on your product or service?
A conversion-focused approach can lead to significant overlap between your business and search competitors. However, the one or two surprising search competitors you discover could make all the difference in the results of your analysis.
Running SEO competitive analysis for the awareness stage is a bit different. Your audience is looking for educational resources at this stage, which means your keyword targets will be broader than your product-specific ones.
This is where search and business competitors start to split. However, if you keep search intent in mind, you can evaluate a wider range of search competitors to guide your higher-level content creation processes.
Turning SEO Competitive Analysis into a Content Roadmap
The actual process of identifying your competitors isn’t necessarily complicated. As long as you’re taking an evidence-based approach rather than gut feelings, you should be able to set your SEO competitive analysis down the right path.
You don’t even need to have a powerful SEO tool at your disposal to take care of this first part. A simple Google search for your target keywords will show you who your search competitors are.
For example, if you’re starting up a company that sells next-gen firewalls, you might start with a simple search for “next-generation firewalls.”
Ignoring the Adwords results, featured snippet, and Wikipedia entry here’s what we’re left with:
Vendors like Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Imperva, Checkpoint, and Fortinet are your main search competitors for this product-focused keyword.
With these brands as your baseline, you can start running an SEO competitive analysis that you know is targeted toward your organic search goals.
What to Look for in a Competitive Analysis
You’ve taken the time to identify the right competitors. Now what?
A comprehensive SEO competitor analysis can reveal all kinds of insights into your marketing strategy. This is when you’d want to take advantage of an SEO platform (we’re partial to Ahrefs, but you can use the tool of your choice to run through this process).
Within an all-in-one SEO platform, you can start to look for organic search insight into four keys to content success.
1. Backlink Opportunities
Backlinks play a significant role in SERP rankings. Use your search tool to evaluate referring domains and get an understanding of which sites are linking back to your competitors. Try to spot opportunities to reach out and obtain backlinks of your own. Look closely at any websites that link to your competitors multiple times.
2. Broken Links
Part of creating 10x content or following the skyscraper technique is writing something better than the top-ranking sites. But who should you reach out to about linking to that content? Finding broken links to competitor content gives you an opening to start a conversation about linking to your own pages.
3. Organic Keywords
You started analysis with at least one seed keyword, and now you can expand that list. See which keywords your competitors rank for and start brainstorming content ideas for all stages of the funnel.
4. Top Content
It’s not just about which keywords your competitors rank for. Knowing which competitor pages are the most popular for search traffic can guide your content strategy. At the very least, it might help prioritize projects that are already on your list.
SEO competitive analysis is far more effective when you have a solid list of search-specific competitors.
If you go with gut feelings alone, you may end up pursuing SEO tasks that won’t have the strongest possible impact on your business.
Don’t just come up with content ideas blindly. Effective competitor analysis will give you a baseline of good ideas that you can build on with thought leadership and original keyword research.